I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Justin Verlander pitch in person on two separate occasions, one of which allowed me to be just feet from the Tigers dugout. To this day I can still recall the comments I made to a buddy immediately following the game. Not only did Verlander have the most dominant “stuff” I had ever witnessed in person, but he also hung on to this rare ability to simply overpower his opponents.
The entire game his fastball will hover in the 95-98 mph range. He’ll throw it consistently and against a majority of the hitters in the big leagues, it’s more than enough to do the job. However, on the rare occasions when he finds himself in a jam that he needs to get out of, Verlander has a remarkable ability to suddenly find an extra 5 mph or so to put him over the century mark. It’s a ridiculous feat of athleticism that you can’t really describe unless you’ve seen it in person. It doesn’t seem like there’s much difference between 95 and 100, but there is. And it’s huge.
It’s the baseball equivalent of LeBron James barreling his way to the basket to get the easy layup and two points because no player in the NBA can guard him one-on-one.
Justin Verlander loves to attempt to out-athlete his peers, which in baseball has a certain romantic quality about it. Nolan Ryan became widely notorious for it during his career as he gained a reputation of going after the best hitters in the game with only his fastball. A “you’re best stuff against my best stuff” mentality, if you will. He thought that there was a certain noble quality towards seeing who was the superior athlete and would literally stand in and fire only fastballs until one of the two parties prevailed. The best part was he considered the battles a failure unless he struck his opponent out. Everything else was a victory for the batter. If you’ve never heard him describe it before, you’re missing out on some of the best sports material ever put to paper. Recommendation: check out the Tony Kornheiser piece on Grantland and read about how much he enjoyed battling Reggie Jackson.
Verlander is his spiritual descendant, and one only need look at last night’s game to witness its latest manifestation.
Pitching late into the game last night, Verlander was still topping 100 on the radar gun in the eighth inning. Keep in mind that he was on basically no rest, coming off a season in which he’s been required to pitch more innings than any player in the game. And still he finds the physical strength to throw 100 mph in the 260th inning or so he’s been a part of this year. Just absurd.
On a night when he was actually less than perfect, is there any doubt though that Verlander is the AL MVP? Think of where the Tigers would be without him right now. Hell, I’ll tell you. They’d be sitting at home watching as the Chicago White Sox or Cleveland Indians were being swept by the Yankees. Instead they’re one win away from a trip to the ALCS.
The baseball gods smiled on us this year, blessing us with a remarkable finish to the season and three out of four great playoff series (I called that this would happen to Arizona months ago). I can’t wait to see how it will all play out and you’d better find a way to take it all in yourself.
Generation Y, where we’re ready for some
football err, a new intro song?
Or: lighting his teammate Don Kelly on fire.